Matt Retallick Research Questionnaire 2: Harriet Burns

Name: Harriet Burns

Location: Allerton (South Liverpool)

1. What is your relationship to Merseyside? 

My mum was born here. I wasn’t. I have lived here since I was about 2. I live here now. I would say I was from Liverpool, I would say I am scouse.

2. How does Merseyside impact or shape your practice? 

It is exceedingly difficult to keep Liverpudlian culture from influencing my practice, but I’m unsure whether this is because of its extroverted nature or because it’s difficult to keep any autobiographical elements from practice in general.
I spent my BA withholding any obviously or esoterically Liverpudlian content from the work, however, any time I was required to speak or present alongside the work gave my locality away, and gave way to questions about my Liverpudlian-ness on the interpretation and navigation of my practice.

Since finishing my BA, I reconfigured my relationship to my ‘heritage’ and started to wield it as a weapon of choice. I’ve allowed and, subsequently, welcomed ‘Liverpool’ as theme and character into my work to shape the thematic interests, whereby I was borrowing imagery and locution from the city as pictorial elements of my Graphic Design practice. Like an insider joke, a niche meme account, a metalanguage to critique the other inaccessible writings I was working with, all became empirical tools, and taking ownership of this heritage as a unique apperceptive quality.

3. What’s are the positives and negatives of living and working in Merseyside? 

It’s cheap. Relatively. The people are generally decent, and by decent, I mean hospitable. Approachable, down-to-earth, no nonsense types. There’s some hard and fast unwritten rules about acceptable modes of self-representation here, but luckily they don’t seem to be dictated by typical margins of oppressed individuals, and are more shaped by attitudes to axioms surrounding class issues. 

The drug-dealer-as-boyfriend problem. The Balenciaga-trainers-for-PE-trainers-problem. The rise of an ‘enlightened’ cosmic scouser 5G tinfoil hats issue. A millennial community that probably did too much beak in their early 20s and whose mum n dads had a house and 2 kids by 25, who don’t know where they fit into a functioning capitalist society, caught between earning less than £21k a year and trying to get birds back to their mum’s box room.

4. What does independence / being independent mean to you? 

Inhabiting platforms that allow/encourage/support you in various freedoms, free from inequalities that plague larger institutions and societal expectations. The ability to act and grow in a way that promotes benevolence as outcome.

5. Is Merseyside a good place to be independent? 

Yes. No. Maybe?

I’ve never struggled with being independent in regards to Liverpool as location. But then I’m reading that through an identity lens. Haven’t been situated here long enough in regards to professional progression to give a decent answer.

6. What are your favourite examples of independence / the independent in Merseyside?

Again, difficult to answer. The Liverpool ‘night life’ scene (of which I have been long removed from, and more so because of lockdown) has always had a sense of independence and thrives in the spaces that are free from franchise. These places seem to have an osmosis-promoting quality, whereby people are free to come and enjoy and go as they please, as opposed to a rigid and judgmental gang of frequenters.

7. What is your favourite cultural organisation in Merseyside and why?

Hard question, from being outside of Liverpool for about 6 years. I used to love News from Nowhere, although I never built any relationship with it through its progressive catalogue of LGBTQ+ literature, but went to a few basement do’s, where all the romanticised features of scattiness seemed beyond the typical pretentious dimensions.

8. What is your favourite place in Merseyside and why? 

St. Luke’s. I love the negative space. I love the positive space. It’s always were I got dropped off at if I was getting a lift into town, and always where I was picked up from. I always dreamt that if I got married (strange, sentimental concept, as marriage holds no semantic or religious promises for me) it would be in there.

Or Calderstones Park. That’s where I spent most of my summers. It didn’t matter  whereabouts in Liverpool you were from, it just seemed to be the location to go to spend a nice summer’s day. I live pretty much opposite and it has been privy to all my emotions.

9. If you could make Merseyside different, what would you change, and why? 

I am interested in partaking in conversations about the psychological similarities of the inhabitants especially in regard to fixation with material goods and vanity. I would love to research where this comes from – is it true about the chip on our shoulders? It might be true that BMWs are found outside council houses, and certain people in receipt of benefits own pedigree dog breeds, but I care less about the inferences of these instances in isolation and more about the possible causational historical factors. How did the same political neglection that gave rise to a stoicism of working-class people and community tribalism (a la Scouse Not English) also construct a caricature of scousers that’s upheld in different parts of the country? How have visual arts sought to represent it, without Sharpie-drawn eyebrows and lads in trackies, where some of the most convincing and empathetic depictions have only been achieved in grass-roots theatre productions and the drag scene?

I would seek the research to edify the people of Liverpool through being educated by them in order to address certain recalcitrance and narcissistic preoccupations.

10. Describe Merseyside to someone who’s never visited

Belter gaff